Raymond Queneau's Utopian Dream Worlds. By Utopian Studies

Raymond Queneau's Utopian Dream Worlds.

By Utopian Studies

  • Release Date: 2005-03-22
  • Genre: Religion & Spirituality

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BECAUSE HE COULD NOT FIND ANY RATIONAL BASIS to justify the anguish caused by a mortal state, the nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) believed that humans are destined to lead lives which are informed by a complex mental algebra. The phases that they can pass through--esthetic, ethical, religious--are presented in Kierkegaard's detailed description in terms of variations. Each of the personifications is a feature of being's anguish and despair. Less well known are the phases of irony and humor which fall in between. (1) Raymond Queneau's (1903-1976) utopian dream imagery also falls somewhere between categories, those of obscure private joke and poetic message, since, as I will show, the characters in his novels are simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the polished ideas emanating from political and literary utopias. In this case, acknowledgement of what Kierkegaard himself referred to as a "philosophy of spheres of existence," (2) and thus of the important part played by the phases of irony and humor in these novels, makes for an interesting reading of the utopian dream worlds readers find there. Whereas these utopias sometimes come from texts that constitute utopias which are in many ways unusual, it can nevertheless be said that Queneau sought to mythologize the utopias of others. All of this imagery is combined into what is perhaps a new form of utopian novel, one which has been theatrically staged for the reader's benefit. (3) By the complexity of their positions, characters acknowledge the sway of a collective cultural ideal based on a utopian mythology, a cosmology. Utopias are a narrative or fictional ideal, a magnetic pole to which characters emotionally attribute both good and bad properties. These are the ultimate cause of their beliefs in meliorism or in dystopia, as well as being the origins of their personal happiness or unhappiness. In the course of evoking the utopias of others, Queneau's humor creates an either/or where a mythological drama of civilization is taking place amid the multiple personifications of the despair and anguish. (4) Another complexity, due to myths is that utopias, or the result of the belief in a utopia, can only be perceived through Queneau's use of humor, which itself is a feature of despair according to Kierkegaard. Queneau repeatedly represents these personifications, thereby making the multiple references inseparable from the characters in his stories. Humankind is seen there as futilely trying to escape the state of anguish and despair by way of the personifications expressed. In Queneau's first novel, Le chiendeni, for example, the characters speak about the possibility of erasing an embarrassing episode which is described earlier in the novel. They are in violent revolt.